Vietnam Human Rights Drive at White House and in Congress
By Jackie Bong-Wright
Petition at White House
It takes 25,000 signatures on a petition on the White House “We the People” website to get a meeting with White House officials. A Vietnamese-American petition has just gotten over 130,000, within two weeks. As a result, 200 Vietnamese Americans were invited to attend a briefing at the White House March 5.
The petition, formulated by Truc Ho, CEO of California-based SBTN- Saigon Broadcasting Television Network, asked President Obama to stop expanding trade with Vietnam at the expense of human rights. It said, “The Vietnamese government (has) waged a brutal crackdown against human rights advocates.” Organizers also noted that Vietnam has arrested religious leaders as well as, most recently, songwriter Viet Khang, who posted two protest songs online. Similar to the Abouzizi incident in Tunisia, Viet Khang’s arrest has lit a flame in the hearts of the three million Vietnamese emigres around the world.
The petition also requested the President “to leverage Vietnam’s desire for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Generalized System of Preferences to force the immediate and unconditional release of all detained human rights champions.”
Similar petitions were sent to governments in Australia, Canada, and Europe. Rallies of thousands of Vietnamese in support of the petition were organized at Lafayette Park outside the White House and elsewhere. Inside the White House, panels of White House and State Department officials focused on dialogue and partnership between the Administration and the Vietnamese American community amidst talk of using global engagement among governments as a measure to promote human rights.
Campaign in Congress
The following day, March 6, Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang, Executive Director of Boat People SOS, a well-known advocacy organization, assisted in organizing about 700 people, divided into teams from various states, for visits to almost 435 House and 100 Senate offices. The 2011 Human Rights Report, as well as Lists of over 800 specific prisoners compiled by the Vietnam Human Rights Network, were presented to the White House and U.S. Congress.
The event united Vietnamese all over the globe, who have continued to sign the petition; signatures have topped 149,856 in the seven weeks since the petition was posted on February 7. In a departure from their previous tendency to leave such matters to their elders, many young Vietnamese joined with their parents and grand-parents to lobby their representatives to pass HR 1410, the Vietnam Human Rights Act, and H. Res. 484, the Vietnam Human Rights Sanctions Act.